Free PCs for UK

Free-PC, the US company that gives away cheap PCs in return for marketing information and an irremovable stream of on-screen advertising banners is set to launch in the UK this year.
Written by Jane Wakefield, Contributor

In the US, Free-PC gave away 10,000 Compaq computers to users after an estimated one million people applied. The company makes money from selling the advertising space and selling-on the marketing information.

According to reports, Free-PC owner Idealab will enter the UK later this year, but only after it has "completely cracked" the US market. Compaq UK have not had any formal approach to supply the company in the UK, according to a spokeswoman, but would "listen to offers" if any such situation arose in this country.

However, the Free-PC service has come in for some criticism and there are doubts as to whether the concept will start a free PC trend.

All applicants had to fill in detailed lifestyle questionnaires. "That is a lot of marketing information," said IDC analyst Nick Jones. Sticking to the old adage ‘there's no such thing as a free lunch', Jones remained sceptical about the free PC model. "It is innovative but it's not going to change the world," he said.

He believes the decision to give away PCs to customers in the US is more a marketing gimmick than a trend. "It is tactical rather than strategic. It is a good way of getting people on the Internet, of gaining marketing demographics and is good PR for the companies involved," Jones said.

He does not believe it will become widespread business practise. "We are not going to have organisations giving away limitless PCs. It is not practical. Just from a technical point of view, think of all the calls from people wanting help."

Several ISPs in America and France have also announced decisions to offer free PCs in return for an annual fee and customer loyalty. Jones can see more logic in ISPs giving away freebies. "The cost of owning a PC is a definite barrier to getting on the Internet," Jones said.

The free PC poses an obvious threat to high-street vendors. Steve O'Brien, head of corporate affairs at Dixons group will be keeping an eye on the market. "Companies are always looking for innovative ways to market. It is early days for the free PC model but we will be watching developments with interest," he said.

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